I haven’t met many book authors, but I assume that starting a conversation with “so, I haven’t actually read your book” is probably not the best way to greet them. Unfortunately, this was my honest opening on  March 22—World Water Day—when my colleague Alexis and I were given the spontaneous opportunity to sit down with Wallace J. Nichols (he goes by J) to chat about his book Blue Mind. It didn’t take long for me to realize that J is probably the last person in the world who would take offence to such an introductory statement. In fact, I think my lack of background knowledge enabled our conversation to flow in ways it might not have otherwise.

Whether it's the turning of the tides or the sound of a running tap, water affects our minds, according author Wallace J. Nichols.

Whether it’s the turning of the tides or the sound of a running tap, water affects our minds, according to Wallace J. Nichols.

The most basic explanation I can give is that J studies how water—namely, being near, in, under, or on it—affects the human brain and ultimately benefits us. This might seem like a simple idea, but as J explained, the reason he wrote Blue Mind was because he was looking for a book on how the rhythm of water, whether  ocean waves or water lapping on a lakeside, affects the mind. Ultimately, he realized that no one had studied this connection in much detail before. We talked about how water affects people throughout their lives—literally from birth to death—and how and why different people seek out water for emotional and physical well-being.

For half an hour we talked about water. And, over the course of our discussion, two of J’s ideas really resonated with me.

The first was the idea of the red mind-blue mind continuum. As he explained, all people operate somewhere along an activity colour spectrum, with extremely red-minded people being those individuals who are in a constant state of sensory overload (usually through work, but the analogy of a rock concert was also given). Conversely, extremely blue-minded people are those who could spend all day, every day zenning out in a float room without a care in the world.

Water affects us on nearly every level.

Water affects us on nearly every level.

Of course, few people are entirely one or the other, but in today’s world, where it seems that we are often expected to be able to do 100 things at once, one way of getting away from the intensity of red mind is to seek out water features—natural or human-made. This made complete sense to me: whenever I’m stressed, I go to the beach. Without my phone.

The second notion that stood out is related to the first: water gives us privacy. Whether we are sitting and having a conversation with a friend by a fountain, or swimming in the sea, water, often subconsciously, enables us to feel more secure than if we were elsewhere. The noise of water can prevent strangers who are even a few feet away from hearing a conversation, and when you are down to your bathing suit in a pool or the ocean, there is little risk of being recorded. And taking a hot shower or a long bath is often a rare opportunity for uninterrupted alone time. Initially I thought this was a bit too Citizenfour for my needs, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s true. Regardless of why you might want privacy in your life—even just the simple act of being disconnected from others for a few moments—water can provide that.

Suffice to say, I will be reading J’s book. In fact, it’s sitting on my bedside table as I write this. I’ll also be adding it as a selection to the Vancouver Aquarium Book Club in the coming months. As someone who has always sought the pleasure of water’s company, J’s book will likely come as a familiar tune. Nonetheless, I encourage everyone to seek more water in their lives and think about how we can seek to protect all water sources so others can enjoy them for years to come.

You can watch J’s full talk to a Vancouver Aquarium audience on World Water Day here.

Laurenne Schiller is a Research Analyst with Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program and founded the Vancouver Aquarium Book Club in 2015.

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